The Place: Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, Alaska
There’s no better place for viewing grizzly bears catching salmon than Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Southwest Alaska. From a platform overlooking the falls, you can safely watch 10-20, maybe more, large bears, mostly males (boars) catching fish. This is their primary way of packing on weight to tide them through the upcoming lean times of winter. Smaller females and especially yearlings usually make do less advantageous positions and grab scraps the boars discard.
I’ll stand by my statement of “no better place” but getting there is no picnic. First, there’s no roads to drive into the park, you have to fly in by float plane or arrive by boat. Second, before you can make the mile plus hike to reach the falls, you must attend a ranger briefing regarding bear safety. It’s a good idea since you’re very likely to encounter bears on the hiking trail. Not to downplay the danger but the serious threats are females (sows) with cubs or, if you’re stupid and bring a candy bar in your backpack, bears trying to take your snacks. By far the majority of the bears are there for the salmon and could care less about you. Give them a wide berth and you’ll be fine.
The People/The Rangers
The third irritant of Brooks Falls is the crowded viewing platform adjacent to the falls. Brooks Falls is no secret, the word is definitely out and it draws tourists like a magnet. In peak season, you are packed onto that platform like sardines and the rangers limit your time to one hour or less. Speaking of the rangers who, after all season dealing with tourists and rule-breaking photographers, are sometimes short tempered in their direction. “Bless their heart” in my best Southern colloquialism. None the less, they are there to keep you safe and there’s NO FUTURE in arguing with them. Just suck it up when they come off like your favorite drill instructor.
If You Go
To get an idea of what you’ll see, check out this bear cam from the comfort of your computer desk.